Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 853–873 | Cite as

Spaced Retrieval Practice Increases College Students’ Short- and Long-Term Retention of Mathematics Knowledge

  • Robin F. Hopkins
  • Keith B. LyleEmail author
  • Jeff L. Hieb
  • Patricia A. S. Ralston
Intervention Study


A major challenge college students face is retaining the knowledge they acquire in their classes, especially in cumulative disciplines such as engineering, where ultimate success depends on long-term retention of foundational content. Cognitive psychologists have recently recommended various techniques educators might use to increase retention. One technique (spaced retrieval practice) involves extending opportunities to retrieve course content beyond a customarily short temporal window following initial learning. Confirming the technique’s utility requires demonstrating that it increases retention in real classroom settings, with commonly encountered educational content, and that gains endure into subsequent semesters. We manipulated spaced versus massed retrieval practice in a precalculus course for engineering students and followed a subset of students who proceeded into a calculus class the following semester. Spacing versus massing was manipulated within- and between-subjects. Within-subjects, students retained spaced content better than massed content in the precalculus course. Between-subjects, students for whom some retrieval practice was spaced, compared to those for whom all practice was massed, performed better on the final exam in the precalculus class and on exams in the calculus class. These findings suggest that spaced retrieval practice can have a meaningful, long-lasting impact on educational outcomes.


Memory Spacing Retrieval practice Mathematics Engineering 



This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Award.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The Institutional Review Board at our university waived the requirement for subjects in this research to provide informed consent. However, as stated in the manuscript, students were given the option to decline to have their performance data included in our analyses. No student declined. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robin F. Hopkins
    • 1
  • Keith B. Lyle
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jeff L. Hieb
    • 2
  • Patricia A. S. Ralston
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Engineering FundamentalsUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

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